Holding Fast to the Word of Life (2)1
“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me” (Philippians 2:14-18).
Wait a minute! Hold on! To live blamelessly and innocent in the Garden of Eden is one thing. I think I can do that. No problem. To live without blemish in the New Heavens and New Earth I can understand. But here we are being told to live godly and righteous lives “in the midst of” this crooked and twisted generation. It is “among” such sinfulness that we are to live. As if that weren’t enough, he says at the close of v. 15 that all this righteous living takes place “in the world,” not in heaven or on earth behind the closed doors and impenetrable walls of a secluded monastery, nor in the relative safety of a cave in the desert or in a hut in the wilderness.
No, it is not merely inside a church building like the one you visit each week. It is not merely within the confines of our private homes. Rather, it is right smack dab in the middle of this perverse and degenerated world of ours! We aren’t told by the apostle to run away from it, or to pretend that it doesn’t exist, or to regard it as better than it is, far less that we should just give up and be conformed to it. No. We are to live this way right smack dab “in the midst” of this morally warped and spiritually stupid society of ours.
Darn it! God simply won’t let me quit. He won’t let you quit. He won’t let any of his “children” pull out and hide away. Rather, he says it as clearly as it can be said: “Live as blameless, innocent, blemish free children of God right smack dab in the middle of this crooked and twisted world where you are to “shine as lights” in the darkness.
Darn it! God just ruined all my plans for a quiet and safe retirement! There go my plans for finding a home in the mountains or in some remote village along the sea. I had it all worked out. I could finally find peace, away from the moral corruption of society, cut off from the crime and ugliness of life, separate and secluded from the brokenness of human lives and the sadness of human sin and the sorrows that inevitably come from living in this crooked and twisted generation.
And please note that this “shining” is not passive, as if in the midst of the darkness you merely stand out or are visible or are morally different from the darkness of the world. No, no, no. By your shining you are to dispel the darkness! Your godliness is like a beam of light that pierces the night sky and changes the atmosphere. You are not simply to be distinguishable from the world around you. You are to illumine that world. You and I are not here merely to provide a contrast against the background of moral darkness in our world. Rather, “Christians are to dispel the darkness of evil and ignorance that is everywhere around them” (Hawthorne, 103).
I fear that many Christians have adopted an unbiblical approach to life, namely, that we are simply to quietly tip-toe our way around the wickedness and hope no one notices that we are here. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we should expect to bring complete transformation to our society, as if by our vocal and visible presence we can usher in the consummation of God’s kingdom on earth. That, as you know, awaits the return of Jesus Christ. But we can shine as lights into a life here, and another life there, and by the power of the Spirit bring freedom and forgiveness and hope to those otherwise ensnared in the bondage of guilt and despair.
What does this mean in practical terms?
• What this means is that when gossip reaches your ears you don’t merely play dumb or remain silent but strongly insist that it can do no one any good to perpetuate such rumors.
• It means that in a world where people are obsessed with themselves and material gain you shine forth as one who verbally and visibly treasures Jesus Christ above all else.
• It means that when lies are told you do more than simply walk away; you first speak the truth.
• It means that where you see betrayal, you model loyalty, and where you hear obscene speech, you utter words of encouragement and affirmation, and where you observe stingy self-absorption you shine forth in generosity and sacrifice.
• It means that when racially prejudicial or sexually suggestive comments are made you do not keep your mouth shut but rather call for compassion and sensitivity and purity of heart.
• It means when you are invited to the strip club you don’t stop at saying no but explain why it cheapens and devalues women and is a betrayal of one’s wife and serves only to distort one’s view of the opposite sex.
• It means that when the weak are oppressed you don’t close your eyes but come to their rescue.
• It means that when the disabled are mocked or taken advantage of you run to their defense.
• It means that when people laugh about how they cheated the IRS by evading legitimate taxes you speak up for integrity and honesty, even if it costs you friendships and promotion at work and means that you won’t get invited to join the crowd at the next Thunder game.
• It means that when suffering strikes us all, you do not yield to the ways of the world and become bitter and cynical but instead you shine forth as those who entrust themselves to the goodness and providence of God.
Yes, it’s a crooked, twisted, dark, and oftentimes ugly generation in which we live. And yes, God is calling his children to remain within it and shine as lights so that by his power we may, here a little, there a little, dispel the darkness, change lives, and honor the name of Christ.
To be continued . . .